Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Sexual Scene)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Official Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/brooklyn/
Opening Day: 18 February 2016
Synopsis: BROOKLYN tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
Where is home, truly? The young Irish lass Eilis Lacey (pronounced AY-lish) at the heart of ‘Brooklyn’ asks herself. Is it where she came from, the place where the family and friends she grew up with still live? Or is it where she now finds her heart’s calling, the place where she has started to build a new life and found someone she loves?
As much as it is a period romance, ‘Brooklyn’ – based on the acclaimed novel by Colm Toibin and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby – is an immigrant’s story about belonging, seen through the eyes of one of thousands of Irish immigrants who made the trip in the 1950s across the Atlantic to start a new life in America.
Eilis’ story begins in the County Wexford town of Enniscorthy, where she lives with her mother and an older sister Rose (Fionna Glascott) and works on Sundays for the snide local grocer “Nettles” Kelly (Brid Brennan). Because Eilis can’t seem to find better work in town, Rose enlists the help of a do-gooder priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) to get her a job as a counter girl at a big high-end department store in the titular New York borough.
Her passageway is a lurching seasick crossing that she is ill-prepared for, but that is nothing compared to the homesickness she feels in the days immediately following her arrival in America. Despite surrounded by single ladies like herself at the boarding house run by the tart-tongued Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters), she largely withdraws into herself, wallowing in the letters from her mother and Rose that ironically make her miss them even more. At work, Eilis struggles to deal with the culture shock, grasping to make small talk with her customers while under the watchful eye of her supervisor (Jessica Paré).
To keep her occupied, Father Flood enrols her in night bookkeeping classes at Brooklyn College; but her mood only truly brightens when she meets a sweet Italian boy Tony (Emory Cohen) at a dance. From evening bus rides to movie-theatre dates to even a day out at the beach in Coney Island, the spark between Tony and Eilis is unmistakable, and it isn’t long before he introduces her to his family, an occasion which she prepares hard for by learning to eat spaghetti the right way.
Unsurprisingly, her sense of isolation fades as she falls in love with Tony. But Eilis’ transformation is only one half of the story; just as she is beginning to find her own rhythm, fate calls her back to Ireland, where her duty as a daughter will keep her longer in Enniscorthy than she first intended to. That extended stay creates the opportunity for her to get to know the upright and handsome Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the kind of would-be suitor the pre-Brooklyn Eilis would have been overjoyed to meet.
We won’t spoil just how this emotional tug-of-war ends for those who are not acquainted with the story, but for those allergic to schmaltz, it suffices to know that Eilis’ romantic complications are surprisingly free of sentimentality and pandering. For all the potentially heart-wrenching twists and turns, director John Crowley never does give in to maudlin theatrics, relying instead on a committed cast to deliver a sincere, unabashedly tender coming-of-age tale of genuine poignancy.
At the heart of the tale is Saoirse Ronan’s luminous performance, for which her Academy Award nomination is well deserved. With intelligence, spirit and empathy, Ronan conveys with keenness and nuance Eilis’ inner turmoil during her initial days in Brooklyn as well as the quiet strength and resolve that she develops later on. Ronan inhabits the role without pretention and with perfection, drawing you into her character’s ups and downs, joys and sorrows, fears and confidence. Cohen, on the other hand, proves an adorably puppyish foil to Ronan, while Gleeson maintains a well-mannered charm that is enough to serve as Cohen’s complement as the rival would-be suitor.
Taken on the level of a romance, ‘Brooklyn’ presents a classic lover’s dilemma with affection and restraint, but the latter also means that it rarely reaches the swooning, soaring heights of emotion that mainstream Hollywood genre-stays often aim for. Yet it is much more than just a love story; like we said at the start, it is a film about a person’s sense of belonging, and how that is as much about where our home is as who our heart beats for. That tension isn’t Eilis’ alone – in fact, one of the most meaningful sequences is a Christmas party for immigrant pensioners organised by Father Flood whose attendees, Father Flood explains, are the very men that built the bridges, tunnels and highways of New York when they came over.
(Saoirse Ronan lights up the screen in a period romance refined, elegant and surprisingly free of sentimentality and pandering)
Review by Gabriel Chong